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Schoolchildren are just the pawns in politicians’ never-ending property tax game

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (from far left), Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, Illinois Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady and Gov. Bruce Rauner listen as supporters discuss SB 1947, an education reform funding bill. | 2017 file photo by Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Politicians in this state have been playing games with property taxes for more than 30 years and playing you for a fool.

Nothing’s changed this election year.

A group of Republican candidates running for the state Legislature are part of a movement promoted in TV commercials as saveyourhomenow.org. People claim they are going to leave the state because of property taxes. The website contends the candidates listed will cap your property taxes at 1 percent of your home’s value and that would cut property taxes in half.


Here’s what those commercials don’t say: If your local school district sees a 50 percent cut in funding, you’re going to end up with some of the worst schools in the country.

As I have explained repeatedly, property taxes are high in Illinois because this state has failed to adequately fund schools, putting the burden on local property owners.

That means, on average, about 67 percent of your property tax bill funds your local public schools. That results in the most unfair, discriminatory system of school funding in the nation.

This property tax system, which few people understand, also penalizes students in poor and working-class neighborhoods, while showering money on children who come from property-rich communities like Schaumburg, Northfield, Winnetka and Naperville.

I have seen candidates for governor and the state legislature run on promises to reform the property tax system. They all lied. They lied about how the system worked and they lied about how their reform plans would solve the problem.

They did nothing to change the property tax system.

Having done nothing, they ran for re-election, promising once again to reform the property tax system. And property owners voted for them every time. Promises sound good, even if they are meaningless.

The candidates running under the saveyourhomenow.org banner are not being honest with you. If they really believed what they are saying, they would run for their local school boards, cut those budgets in half, and you would see your property taxes go down. They don’t want that to happen and neither do you.

Why? Because you care about your children. And you care about the value of your home. Slash school funding in half and new home buyers will avoid your community like the plague. No one wants to buy a home in a bad school district and the quality of the schools is the first thing people look at when they are moving into a community.

Critics of school funding often blame school teachers. They make too much money, they say. I say to these critics, who often live in the wealthiest communities, just cut the salaries of the teachers in your school districts. Eliminate their pensions and health care.

Children in those communities start with the greatest advantages. Certainly, they don’t need the best teachers to get a quality education. They should set the example for us all.

Nothing like that has happened. That’s because wealthy people, often Republicans, want their children to have a great education. I want the same thing for children who live in poorer communities. And that, in fact, is the official position of our state.

The Illinois Constitution states: “A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities…

“The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.”

The state, which finances about 33 percent of the cost of education, has not been the primary financial backer of the schools. You have picked up the slack with your property taxes.

If the state picked up its share of the cost, say 50 percent, property taxes would go down.

Politicians who campaign using gimmicks like “saveyourhomenow” prey on the public’s fear, offer false hope and would use your school children as pawns in their political games.

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